Eruvin 47

A question of principles.

Today’s daf gives us a window into how some of the rabbis accepted (or didn’t) each other’s legal reasoning.

The background is a discussion we first encountered yesterday in which the rabbis debated some general principles of deciding Jewish law. The Gemara then moved to a series of statements about how to resolve disputes between specific rabbis, even providing a list of pairs of rabbis and who we should hold by in cases where they disagree. For example, if Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon disagree, we follow Rabbi Yehuda. And so on.

At the end of this list, one rabbi – Rav Mesharshiya – makes a puzzling assertion:

“These principles are not to be relied upon.”

On today’s daf, the Gemara interrogates this peculiarity, asking where Rav Mesharshiya got the chutzpah to openly reject what appears to be a clear system of rules for halakhic decision making?

The Talmud tries to answer this question by citing several cases in which the way the law was decided appears to contradict this system — in effect, validating Rav Mesharshiya’s claim that these principles are not in fact followed. One such case relates directly to the main topic of Tractate Eruvin: Someone left their house without establishing an eruv, travelled to another town, took up residence there over Shabbat, but did not create an eruv in the shared courtyard of their new home.

According to Rabbi Meir, because this traveler hasn’t participated in the building of an eruv with his neighbors, nobody can carry through the courtyard on Shabbat. Several other rabbis disagree with Rabbi Meir, among them Rabbi Shimon. The Gemara then records this teaching, which seems to settle the matter:

Rav Ḥama bar Gurya said that Rav said: The halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Shimon. And who disagrees with him? It is Rabbi Yehuda. 

Rav’s teaching resolves the dispute in favor of Rabbi Shimon, even though we learned on yesterday’s page that the law should be in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda’s position in cases where he disagrees with Rabbi Shimon. This would then seem like a potential support for Rav Mesharshiya’s argument that those principles aren’t relied on.

But the Gemara rejects this proof. The decision making guidelines only apply in cases of an unresolved dispute where the halakhah isn’t explicitly stated. But in this case, the law was stated — thanks to Rav, we know that the law follows Rabbi Shimon. So this case can’t be understood as support for Rav Mesharshiya.

The rabbis continue to look for support for Rav Mesharshiya’s position in cases where the law doesn’t appear to follow the rules, but in each of them they find logical reasons for the exceptions. Ultimately, Rav Mesharhiya’s argument is deemed unsuccessful. So what then do we do with his puzzling assertion that the principles can’t be relied upon?

The Talmud assumes this wasn’t actually what Rav Mesharshiya meant. What he meant was that the principles weren’t relied upon by everyone.

It’s a small moment of moderation and diversity of thought where we see how the Talmud understands its own system of decision-making and seeks to resolve apparent contradictions.

Read all of Eruvin 47 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 25, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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